“In Popular Culture, the Hearing-Impaired people Are Always Looked At With Sympathy”

Vinay Agrawal

In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.

According to a W.H.O study, unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$ 750 billion. This includes health sector costs, costs of educational support, loss of productivity, and societal costs. It further mentions, “In children under 15, 60% of such loss is attributable to preventable causes.”

“Over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures.”

The study also estimates that over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures. The hearing loss which can be broadly classified into three categories: mild, moderate, severe or profound can affect either one or both ears. The loss of hearing can hence result in a difficulty in grasping words during a normal chat or can hinder one’s ability to hear a sharp sound. 

“In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.”

A timely intervention, thus, is the need of the hour. Audiologist Devangi Dalal couldn’t agree more to this. In her 29 years of experience, Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children. She has seen their struggles up, close and personal and in-turn, learnt a lot about life from them. 

She has also been a witness to their unique struggles caused by the pandemic and the lockdown. On the flip side, Dalal has also seen the remarkable resilience, exemplary perseverance and never-say-die attitude these children possess. In a free-wheeling conversation, she busts out a few myths regarding hearing impairment, doles out relevant data and presents a way forward in terms of individual and institutional responses (society included) towards the hearing impaired section.

In your website, you talk about one particular research work that led you to discover key findings such as, percentage of the population affected by hearing impairment.  What other major findings did you stumble upon as the result of that research?

First of all, hearing impairment is unperceived so there’s limited work done as compared to physical handicap. I have been in practice for the last 29 years and I haven’t seen anybody having no hearing; they have 5-15% residual hearing which can be utilized. Technology has advanced so much that with the help of hearing aids/cochlear implants, these kids can be normal. They can have normal education and life but because of economic poverty and certain myths, it hasn’t been used for the children correctly. 

“In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment.”

In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment. Around 80 countries have a strict protocol for diagnosing children who leave the hospital. They are screened for hearing but in India, it hasn’t started yet. Auditory screening before the birth of the child has to become mandatory especially from the government so that early detection and rehabilitation can be done.

Can you talk about the gaps in the current pedagogical curriculum of special needs schools for the hearing impaired? 

It is not good enough. There are around 450 special schools all over India. Some of them are run by the government and some by private practitioners. There is a difference in the curriculum in these schools. 

Apart from that, the curriculum is designed to suit children having inferior hearing aids and the teaching is planned accordingly. The curriculum needs to be changed for those who have superior digital hearing aids so that they can be integrated into normal society. Everything has to change from the base: starting with neonatal screening from the government and giving hearing aids to each and every child as per their requirements and providing a curriculum which educates them up to standards so that they can cope with the normal children.

What are the ways to mend this gap?

The gap is quite high. Because of the language difference, the vocational training remains limited. That gap can be bridged. The centres should have a sports education for the overall development of children as these children struggle with employment in different industries. Once they have good hearing aids and education, the 1% quota that is available for them should be implemented aptly.

Has pandemic affected the hearing impaired population in a different way? Are they facing any unique issues as a result of pandemic and lock-down?

“During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language.”

During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language. So, communication became an issue. Other than that, the children having improper hearing aids weren’t able to communicate well in online programs. 

“Education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology.”

So their education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology. There are employment issues too. Those who have had education aren’t earning now.  Because of no activity, a few of them have turned to violence (violent behaviour patterns as a consequence of the lockdown). 

How does a hearing impairment affect one’s sense of self, especially among children?

Hearing is very important for communication. We have verbal and non-verbal communication. Both get affected during the loss of hearing. The hearing problem increases the level of difficulty in education, social interaction, and employment. As one is unable to understand the language that people are talking, they get isolated. One’s anxiety and frustration level goes up thereby affecting their physical, physiological, emotional, and even spiritual parts of life. 

You are the first Indian to have won The Humanitarian Award from The American Academy of Audiology. Tell us more about that. 

American Academy of Audiology is one of the biggest international organizations, comprising 13000 professionals. Every year, seven people get awards in different areas of their work and one of them is humanitarian work. In 2012, I was the only Indian to be awarded the Humanitarian Award. 

At an international level, they see how efficiently you do your work. The person concerned with the work was extremely aware of the activities that I did in India. Of course, there is a lot of work done in the humanitarian sector in a lot of countries but when you are representing a country, all the kind of work that you do to be a role model for others is the greatest happiness one can have. 

What is your opinion on popular culture representation (in movies, books) of the hearing impaired? How can it be made better?

“The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life.”

In popular culture, we have always looked at people with hearing impairment with sympathy. There are movies such as Black, Khamoshi where the children communicate in gestural language and try to overcome the challenges. The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life. That should be the message we need to promote through movies. 

You recently authored a book, “Spreading Positivity”. Tell us about that.

In this pandemic, we all got panicky and started worrying about our future. I was taking online therapy for hearing-impaired people and paralytic patients, and they were facing a lot of challenges. 

I’ve a habit of sharing inspirational pictures with people, and I narrate stories out of that, so I thought, why don’t I pen down my learning? My book, Spreading Positivity,  is a small thought process that I have radiated into the universe. I hope it multiplies positivity in our lives.

What is your take on Indian sign language? Is it complex when compared to ASL (American Sign Language)?

The sign language that we follow is as good as the ASL so there isn’t much difference. But, what happens with sign language is that communication with people becomes limited. If the children have multiple disabilities, then sign language helps them to communicate. But if the child’s intelligence and all other organs are normal, then one should go with hearing aids and cochlear implants. That will help them to be self-dependent. 

From the last 29 years, Dalal has been actively involved in conceptualizing various rehabilitation programs to hone the performance of children. She has played an indispensable role in almost every stage from raising capital for their betterment to conducting lectures at numerous occasions to make people aware of hearing and listening issues in children and adults.

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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